Copyright law

General information about copyright law

Copyright law is the relevant legal foundation for many sectors of the entertainment field, such as the music business, the film business, television, photography, fine arts, theater, or book publishing.

Copyright law is an area of intellectual property law. It protects intellectual property rights to works and performances. Protected works are, for instance, compositions, song lyrics, books, poems, works of fine art, works of architecture, photos, or films. However, works need to have sufficient originality to be protected under copyright law. In addition to works, copyright law protects so-called neighboring rights. These neighboring rights can be acquired by performing artists, music producers, concert promoters, or film producers. Such neighboring rights do not have the same requirements for originality as works.

Important principles of copyright law

It is important to understand that copyright law is nationally regulated. In Germany, copyright law is regulated by the German copyright act of September 9, 1965. In foreign countries, foreign national copyright acts will apply. In order to provide international protection for authors, performing artists, and other rights holders, various international treaties were signed (such as the Revised Bern Agreement). These treaties provide for a minimum of protection for citizens of all the states participating in the treaty.

German copyright law is based on the personal rights theory, which posits a strong connecting link between the author and his/her work that prohibits a total transfer of all interest in one’s work. Authors and artists have moral rights that may not be waived. Furthermore, authors and artists have numerous non-waivable statutory guaranteed rights, such as the right to reasonable compensation for the grant of rights, revocation rights because of non-exercise or change of conviction, the “bestseller paragraph,” and so on. In this respect, German copyright law differs from copyright laws in other countries, in particular, American copyright law. American copyright law adheres to a more utilitarian principle, which advocates the widest dissemination of intellectual works. The sharpest contrast between American and German copyright law is visible in the work-made-for-hire doctrine. In the U.S., publishers or producers may acquire all copyrights from authors through work-made-for-hire agreements. German personal rights theory does not allow this legal assumption. One important principle of German copyright law is the “theory of the purpose-restricted transfer” (§ 31 V UrhG). This principle provides that in cases where the agreement fails to enumerate specifically the rights of use that have been granted, the scope of the grant will be determined by the purpose of the grant. As a result, the author or artist is deemed to have granted only the rights essential to achieve the purpose of the grant. Every grant is to be interpreted as narrowly as possible. This makes careful contract drafting necessary under German copyright law.

Important contracts in copyright law

Copyright contracts differ in various areas of entertainment. We can distinguish between contracts between authors or artists with each other, contracts between authors/artists and licensees (primary contract law), and contracts between licensees and sub-licensees (secondary copyright law). Important contracts between authors are, for instance, contracts between joint authors. These contracts regulate the basics for collaboration in the creation of works, the publication, and the scope of exploitation of the works. Important contracts between artists are group contracts in the music business. They regulate the collaboration between artists in the band, their contributions and participation in the proceeds, and, last but not least, the consequences of a termination of the group. Contracts of primary copyright contract law are, for instance, publishing contracts, agreements on the acquisition of literary property, screenwriter agreements, gallery agreements between artists and galleries, photo license agreements between photographers and agencies or the media, recording artist agreements between artists and music producers, concert agreements between artists and promoters, and so on. Secondary copyright contracts are, for instance, distribution contracts, TV licensing contracts between producers and TV stations, book licensing contracts between publishers and sub-publishers or foreign publishers, and so on.

The law office of Dr. Hans-Jürgen Homann can advise you on all relevant questions and on drafting all the necessary contracts. I would be glad to talk to you about your legal needs.
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